1st February 2021

A bullet through an island’s heart

  • A megacity plan for the sustainable and holistic development of the 680 sq km, fragile Little Andaman Island in the Andaman and Nicobar group.
  • The plan has raised the alarm among conservationists.

      ‘SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF LITTLE ANDAMAN ISLAND – VISION DOCUMENT’

  • This is the NITI Aayog’s proposal to leverage the strategic location and natural features of the island.
  • The document aims at building a new greenfield coastal city there, that will be developed as a free trade zone and will compete with Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • There will be ‘underwater’ resorts, casinos, golf courses, convention centres, plug-and-play office complexes, a drone port with fully automated drone delivery system, nature cure institutes and more.
  • An international airport capable of handling all types of aircraft will be central to this development vision.
  • The only jetty on the island will be expanded and a marina will be developed next to the tourist entertainment district.
  • A 100 km greenfield ring road will be constructed parallel to the coastline from east to west and will be supplemented with a mass rapid transit network with stations at regular intervals.
  • The nature resort complex proposed at West Bay on the western coast is to have theme resorts, floating/underwater resorts, beach hotels, and high-end residential villas.
  • It is today a secluded and difficult to reach part, one of the most important nesting sites of the globally endangered Giant Leatherback sea turtle
  • Giant Leatherback sea turtle is being studied by the Dakshin Foundation, the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team and the island administration’s Forest Department.

          3 ZONES:

The proposal is pivoted along three development anchors and zones.

Zone 1 – spread over 102 sq km along the east coast of Little Andaman — will be the financial district and medi city and will include an aerocity, and a tourism and hospital district.

Zone 2 – Spread over 85 sq km of pristine forest- the leisure zone, will have a film city, a residential district and a tourism SEZ.

Zone 3 -on 52 sq km of pristine forest — will be a nature zone, further categorised into three districts: an exclusive forest resort, a nature healing district and a nature retreat, all on the western coast.

   ‘BLOCKS’ TO DEVELOPMENT:

Factors that could prevent Little Andaman from becoming the new Singapore and these include-

  • lack of good connectivity with Indian mainland and global cities,
  • a fragile biodiversity and natural ecosystems and;
  • the “presence of indigenous tribes and concerns for their welfare” and;
  • certain Supreme Court notifications that pose an impediment to development
  • 95% of Little Andaman is covered in forest, a large part of it the pristine evergreen type;
  • some 640 sq km of the island is Reserve Forest under the Indian Forest Act, and;
  • nearly 450 sq km is protected as the Onge Tribal Reserve.

IRRITANTS IN THE DOCUMENT:

  • The vision needs 240 sq km (35%) of this land.
  • It is planning to de-reserve 32% of the reserved forest and de-notify 138 sq km or 31% of the tribal reserve.
  • And if the tribals become an impediment, the vision suggests that they “can be relocated to other parts of the island”.
  • The document uses inappropriate photographs plagiarised from the Internet.
  • Vision talks of conservation of national park/wildlife sanctuary on Little Andaman when none exist here and it has no mention of the geological vulnerability of the place, which was amongst the worst-affected in the earthquake-tsunami combination in 2004.
  • The plan has no financial details, no budgeting, or inventorisation of forests and ecological wealth and no details of any impact assessment.

FOREST DEPT.’S CONCERNS:

  • Experts have raised serious concerns about this vision on grounds of-

    a. ecological fragility, indigenous rights and vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis.

    b. large diversion of forest land would cause obvious environmental loss leading to irreversible damage (more than 2 million trees stand in the forest land sought for these projects).

    c. habitats of various wild animals including endangered sea turtles would be affected.

  • The impact could not even be assessed because there was no environment impact assessment report and neither were there any detailed site layout plans for the proposed diversion.
  • The vision that seeks to alter the nature of an ancient island bigger than Chennai and Mumbai in area.
  • A meeting will be held to initiate the denotification of the Onge tribal reserve on Little Andaman.

 

Centre likely to postpone Census to 2022

  • The Central government is on track to push the 2021 Census to 2022 on account of the country’s continuing preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Measures taken to deal with the pandemic and now the massive vaccination programme under way across the country are the reasons behind the postponement.

NPR update:

The Census exercise was to be conducted in two phases —

  1. House Listing and Housing Census from April to September 2020 and;
  2. Population Enumeration from February 9 to February 28, 2021.

CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THE NPR

  • Thousands of people had protested against the Centre’s decision to update the NPR, which is considered the basis for the preparation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that could potentially exclude millions of people born in India.
  • The entire process of NPR had become controversial after Parliament approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December 2019 that sought to give citizenship to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
  • However, the rules required for implementing the CAA have not been framed so far — more than a year after the passage of this key legislation.
  • Diplomatic sources believe that strong opposition from Bangladesh is one of the factors that led to the CAA remaining on hold.

 

‘3-language policy is not applicable to Central govt. offices’

  • The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has said the three-language policy is not applicable to offices of the Union government.
  • The Ministry gave this response to a question filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act on the recent CRPF event at Bhadravati in Shivamogga district, where the plaques unveiled to mark the foundation stone-laying ceremony were only in English and Hindi.

   THREE-LANGUAGE FORMULA

  • It was first incorporated in the National Education Policy 1968 by the Indira Gandhi government.
  • In Hindi-speaking states: English, Hindi, and a modern Indian language.
  • Non-Hindi speaking states: English, Hindi, and one Indian language.
  • The three-language formula sought to serve three functions namely, accommodating group identity, affirming national unity, and increasing administrative efficiency.
  • In 1968, the three-language formula was implemented across the country, barring Tamil Nadu that adopted a two-language policy.

CRITICISM

  • Kannada activists and Opposition leaders, including former Chief Ministers H.D. Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah, said Kannada was ignored at the programme.
  • Hundreds of people took to social media to criticise the Centre.
  • Union Home Ministry has defended its stand citing the rules- “as per the provision of the Official Language Act, 1963, and the Official Language Rules, 1976, the provision of bilingual policy is applicable in the offices of the Central government.
  • The only solution to this problem could be amendments to the Articles from 343 to 351 of the Constitution which declare Hindi as the official language.

 

Garbage-to-power plant in veggie market gets PM’s pat

Prime Minister made a mention of the garbage-to-power plant being commissioned inside the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Agriculture Market in Bowenpally.

  • Vegetable and fruit waste is used to generate power to the extent of 500 units a day and 30 kilos of green manure at the plant.
  • This is being done by making use of 10 tonnes of left over market waste.
  • The power generated is being used to light up the market and also run the canteen in the premises enabling the market committee to make substantial savings in power bills.
  • “This is the power of innovation, it was nice to learn about it. This is the journey of turning garbage into gold,” the Prime Minister remarked.

   INVENTION

The CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) has designed and patented the high rate biomethanation technology-based Anaerobic Gas lift Reactor (AGR) for this ?3 crore project funded by the Department of Biotechnology and the Telengana government’s Agriculture Marketing Department.

Biomethanation Technology

  • Gasification of biomass produces a mixture of gas (mainly carbon monoxide, CO 2 and hydrogen) called synthesis gas, or singes, by thermal degradation without combustion.
  • Syngas can be used for heat or electricity production by thermochemical processes.
  • This project aims at developing an alternative way to bio-upgrade syngas into biogas (mainly methane), via anaerobic fermentation.
  • A few strains of archaea are able of carboxydotrophic methanogenesis, some potentially present in industrial wastewater-treating anaerobic granules.
  • An industrial granular sludge was first characterized for its carboxydotrophic methanogenesis potential using batch tests under various conditions.
  • Then those granules were inoculated into a 30 liters gas-lift reactor and supplied with a gas mixture containing carbon monoxide, to study the production of methane and others metabolites, at different gas feeding and recirculation rates.
  • Carbon monoxide being a poorly soluble gas, a challenge was to reach an adequate gas-to-liquid mass transfer, without exceeding the toxicity level.

 

Medical board on abortion ‘unfeasible’

  • A panel of doctors to decide on termination of pregnancy beyond 24 weeks as proposed in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Amendment Bill, 2020, is “unfeasible” as 82% of these posts are lying vacant in the country, finds a new study.
  • The data is based on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Rural Health Survey, which provides details of vacancies filled at secondary healthcare centres. Similar data for urban areas were unavailable.

THE BILL:

  • The MTP Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in March 2020, and is likely to be brought before the Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session.
  • The Bill proposes several amendments, including the constitution of a medical Board in every State and Union Territory. The Board will decide on pregnancies beyond 24 weeks in cases of foetal abnormalities.
  • Each Board will have a gynaecologist, a radiologist or sonologist, a paediatrician, and other members prescribed by the governments.

REPORT ANALYSIS

  • The report analysed district-wise availability of specialists, including surgeons, obstetricians and gynaecologists, physicians and paediatricians.
  • It found that for each of the years between 2015 and 2019, the shortfall in these posts hovered between 71% and 81.8%.
  • For 2019, for a total of 21,296 vacancies in the country, only 3,880 were filled, that is, there was a shortfall of 81.8%.
  • The shortfall was starker in the northeast where Sikkim, Mizoram and Manipur had a total absence of obstetricians and gynaecologists, and a near total absence of paediatricians.
  • Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya had a 100% shortage of paediatricians.

 

Centre set to allow steel from recycled scrap to be used in road, bridge projects

  • In what could be a jolt to major steel makers of India, the
  • Centre is set to allow steel made from recycled scrap to be used in construction of roads and bridges.
  • This will liberate the construction sector from the compulsion of having to use steel made only by the top few iron and steel companies in the country.

HIKE

  • Steel industry in general and the top few premium steel makers in India in particular have hiked the price of steel by at least 50 per cent in the past six months.
  • The move is expected to give a clear cost-advantage to the Centre’s various road projects.
  • The decision will make thousands of suppliers of recycled steel and smaller players in the sector eligible to vie for the business so long as their steel meets the required technical standard set by the ministry for roads and bridges.
  • A steel industry body last month wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defending the hike in prices and citing reasons behind it.
  • Citing the pandemic, the industry body wrote that a global shortage of steel had triggered the rise in prices and that the price of iron ore had also soared.

QUALITY CONTROL

  • There will also be a requirement to set a stringent inspection regime for quality control at the ground level, officials said.
  • About 40 per cent of the expenditure in road projects goes into procuring steel and cement.
  • Ministry sources said an estimated 10,000 suppliers in India will potentially be eligible to bid for contracts to supply steel after the move, introducing competition and also enhancing the size of the sector.
  • Over 60 per cent of the domestic steel demand is generated from construction sectors like real estate and roads.
  • The road sector the world over has been toying with a number of alternative technologies and materials that can replace steel.
  • Composite and reinforced fibre bars claim tensile strength five to six times that of steel.
  • Gadkari, who had been criticising the increase in steel prices for the past two months, recently publicly warned steel makers about its impact on road projects.

 

Britain to apply to join Asia-Pacific free trade bloc

  • Britain will apply to join a massive 11-nation free-trade bloc of Asia-Pacific countries.
  • Britain will formally request Monday for Britain to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a market representing half a billion people and roughly 13.5% of the global economy.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the potential new partnership would “bring enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain”.
  • Negotiations between the UK and the partnership — which represents 11 Pacific Rim nations including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico and Vietnam — are expected to start this year, the trade department said.

  ‘ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITIES’

  • Britain said joining the CPTPP would offer “enormous opportunities”.
  • She has touted joining as Britain made agreements with members such as Japan and Canada in the wake of Brexit, with British media reporting that CPTPP nations accounted for around eight percent of UK exports in 2019.
  • The deal will mean lower tariffs for car manufacturers and whisky producers, as well as “delivering quality jobs and greater prosperity for people here at home”.
  • Membership of the bloc has the potential to deliver new opportunities for UK business across different sectors.

COMPREHENSIVE AND PROGRESSIVE AGREEMENT FOR TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

  • The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), also known as TPP11 or TPP-11, is a trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
  • It evolved from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which never entered into force due to the withdrawal of the United States.
  • At the time of its signing, the eleven countries’ combined economies represented 13.4 percent of the global gross domestic product (approximately US$13.5 trillion), making the CPTPP the third largest free-trade area in the world by GDP.
  • The CPTPP was launched in 2019 to remove trade barriers among the 11 nations representing nearly 500 million consumers in the Asia-Pacific region in a bid to counter China’s growing economic influence.
  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was signed on 4 February 2016, but never entered into force, as Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement soon after being elected.
  • All original TPP signatories except the US agreed in May 2017 to revive it and reached agreement in January 2018 to conclude the CPTPP.
  • The formal signing ceremony was held on 8 March 2018 in Santiago, Chile.
  • The CPTPP incorporates most of the TPP provisions by reference, but suspended 22 provisions the US favored that other countries opposed, and lowered the threshold for enactment so the participation of the US is not required.
  • The agreement specifies that its provisions enter into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries).
  • The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October, and the agreement came into force for the initial six ratifying countries on 30 December 2018.
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